Best breed of sheep

chick_mom(south middle TX)April 6, 2008

We have decided to add several ewes and a ram to our place.

What we are looking for is a meat breed that will tolerate Texas heat. I would almost like t try a Heritage Breed but don't know where to start. We have had experience with a friends sheep many years ago in New Jersey so we aren't exactly rookies.. any sugestions out there??

We have a 2 acre stock fenced pasture with leanto and 3 adjoining pens.. We plan to supplement grazing with feed..

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I'm not saying it's the best breed, but we are new to sheep also... we picked the Saint Croix pure bred! Hard to find pure bred St. Croix.. We have been happy with this breed here in Louisiana! Check this breed out before you decide. I'm too old to rangle and deal with 150lb animals. this is almost worm free and no wool to deal with. Good freezer meat also if you like lamb.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 8:43PM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

I would consider what size animal you will have when butcher time arrives. Cost the same price to handle a big one over a small one, plus the wrapping charges. You can wait to butcher, gain size if you are feeding "free" grass. We didn't grain much with our home bred lambs, since they were kept as pasture mowers. Meat tasted fine.

Any grain supplement you feed is adding to your expenses.

Ours (mixed breed meat) lambed in late spring, good weather. They were butchered about Dec at about 150# on the hoof. We got more meat, larger pieces of meat. Husband said he didn't want quarter-sized lamb chops! You just want to butcher before the adult teeth come in, it changes the meat flavor. Lamb is good eating, mutton is nasty tasting, to me.

We do 4-H market lambs now. We purchase black-faced lambs because they are the "approved" market lamb look. Suffolk or Hamps are the breeding crosses they want. Big framed lambs. You won't win locally if you show "different-looking" lambs. We tried that too. Market lambs have to get some grain, but ours are grazed daily too. All about money saving. If you pay for grain, you reduce profit at the end when you sell at fair auction. Ours get a mix of grains and pellets, but hay is fed too. Help in cleaning the barn for new summer hay. They really don't eat a lot of hay over summer. I keep one paddock free for the lambs. Market weight is between 130-145# for our end-of-July fair. Personally I would keep my lambs longer to get more size if we weren't selling at Fair. Heavy lambs don't place or sell as well. We do shear monthly to let lambs gain weight better in summer heat. They are walked daily so meat has a good fat distribution, LOOONNGG distances daily. Really shows when the judge lays his hands on them.

So, depending on how you plan to use the lambs, the breeds you choose will vary. Selling at the farmers market, might be small sheep with small lambs. A friend markets her Katadin(sp) lambs at about 40lbs. The Hispanics, Middle Eastern folks snap them up as quick as she arrives. Small is perfect for backyard roasting. My market lambs would be way too big for this. She likes selling them live off the truck, no work for her. Not sure what she gets a head. They are a hair sheep, no shearing needed. Another friend sold Cheviot lambs from his wife's spinning flock. Those things were also tiny. Live selling was maybe 60#, so you only got about 25# of meat after the butcher was done. Not a lamb I would buy!

You might have to educate your buyers on good value of lamb in their diet. So much lamb is poorly prepared, doesn't taste good. Too bad, it is an excellent meat, very flavorful if prepared well. Stores selling "Western Lamb" are not helping. Those sheep from out west are usually over a year old, have the adult teeth. However the ranchers can't make butcher weight in their poor pasture in one season. SOMEHOW, they are allowed to market these sheep as lambs, so meat is sold as lamb too. TASTES like MUTTON, not lamb. Might as well be chewing candles in my opinion! Yet this is the flavor store buyers accept as "lamb" meat.

Hope this is helpful in focusing your breed choices. Our mixed breed sheep had a lot of good features going for them. Maybe someone locally breeds such a type. A mix could be good in your weather area, have ALL the best features from a variety of breeds.

Good luck with your new project. They aren't smart, but they sure are cute.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 10:36PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

There are "rare" breeds that are also good meat breeds. I think it is the American Breed Conservancy that list rare breeds for a number of animals - try googling for rare or endangered domestic animal breeds or livestock. I think another breed, as well as the St. Croix, is the Churro, the native breded rescued from near oblivion, used by the Navajo for wool and meat. If you don't want to shear the sheep yourself, or try to find someone to do it for you, then the "hair" sheep, which don't grow wool and which shed their winter coats naturally in the spring might be a good match for you - there are several breeds. They DO tend to be smaller than the meat sheep, and some are considered "flighty" by most of the people familiar with them, but if you got lambs, and handled them, then I would think you could have tame ones.

I would suggest you get a book or two on sheep from the library or on-line - I imagine Story Publications has one and that there are others for the back-yard shepherd. That way, you will be better informed about things that didn't come up or have been forgotten over the intervening years between New Jersey and now.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2008 at 1:10PM
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chick_mom(south middle TX)

Thank you all for the info.. We have a lot to learn.. I just heard about Dorpers which are a hair sheep that does well in Texas. My husband knew about Kathidin [sp?] The St Croix sound interesting.. back to the internet..
Thanks again all

    Bookmark   April 9, 2008 at 3:06PM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

Something else we do is bell our lambs. With a flock, maybe you could bell just one or two. Sound helps you find them if they get out. I sub-consciously track the sound during the day as I am outside working. I have nice bells, so sound is attractive, pleasing to the ear. Quiet when they are laying down, with an occasional ring as they graze.

However if the sheep get to running, you will hear them. Sheep seldom run for very long, so the constant clanging is your warning sound. Could be one escaped and is running the fence. Could be something is chasing them. Mine are behind the barn, not visible from the house so I consider the bells as helpful.

Just an idea, for you to consider. I found a set of old sleighbells, with bell shaped bells on a strap. They are brass, have nice sound that carries well. Kind of a wind chime sound over distance. They are nice sized on the lambs, just a couple inches tall, not cowbell huge.

Smuckers Harness Shop, they sell round sleigh bells in brass. Also the bell-shaped ones in various sizes. Mine are the open face bell style. I thought they were a reasonable price, especially if they have good tone.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2008 at 1:02AM
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chick_mom(south middle TX)

Great idea.. I am from Pennsylvania and when I was there I found an old brass cowbell in the woods. It is small but has a wonderful tone.. I will check out the link you sent.. I have a string of sleigh bells but don"t want to use them as they are from my family.. Here where I live we usually have loose beef cattle.
We have 7 acres of pasture and now have decided to sheep fence the other that is in barbed wire. We will also need to run electric to keep out the coyotes.. We will most likely get a donkey for that purpose too. Seems to work very well.. Thanks , Kit

    Bookmark   April 10, 2008 at 5:28PM
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I'm in Texas as well, and we have a very small flock of Hair sheep. Mine are Dorper/St. Croix crosses and I love them. They are very easy keepers, stay fat on air, very good mothers. Although I don't eat mine ;-) I have eaten Dorper lamb before, and it is the best meat in the world. you wouldn't even know it was lamb. Very good flavor. They are very sensible sheep as well, don't test fences etc...I primarly have sheep to train my dogs on ( I trial Border Collies) and they are great training sheep as well. For TX I don't think you can go wrong getting any of the hair sheep, Dorper, St. Croix, Katahdin...or crosses.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 6:37PM
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After lots of research.. I have decided to go with the St.
Croix. I will be picking up my starter flock tomarrow.. have to travel to another state since breeders are very hard to find. I am very excited to finally be jumping off and going for it. Our family farm is a 5 gereration and my grandparents all raised sheep on it so its going back to the original use only have 30 acres left but really nice pasture. we also grow our own hay and have a few horses.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 12:37PM
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great ideas thank you for all this information !!!

    Bookmark   January 30, 2011 at 11:39AM
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